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Dead Man's Hand (The Unorthodox…

Dead Man's Hand (The Unorthodox Chronicles) (edition 2022)

by James J. Butcher (Author)

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On the streets of Boston, the world is divided into the ordinary Usuals, and the paranormal Unorthodox. And in the Department of Unorthodox Affairs, the Auditors are the magical elite witches with spells at their command and all the power and prestige that comes with it. Grimshaw Griswald Grimsby is... not one of those witches. After flunking out of the Auditor training program, Grimsby tried to resign himself to life as a mediocre witch. But he can t help hoping he'll somehow, someway, get another chance to prove his skill, unfortunately when that chance comes his way, it comes with high risks.… (more)
Title:Dead Man's Hand (The Unorthodox Chronicles)
Authors:James J. Butcher (Author)
Info:Ace (2022), 384 pages
Collections:Your library

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Dead Man's Hand (The Unorthodox Chronicles) by James J. Butcher


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If you are looking for another series by Jim Butcher, James J. Butcher’s first book, Dead Man’s Hand, will not be it… but you won’t be disappointed. I did get some similarities between the father and son’s books, but James made this one all his own. I’m really hoping that he continues to do so and doesn’t let more of his father’s DNA slip into this series.

We still have the rough living mentor (The Huntsman), who wants to hurry this mission along so he can get back to the bottle. And there’s the newbie apprentice (Grimsby) with a traumatic past, where some of the humorous parts come in. Plus there’s a creature that reminds me of Dobby (the house elf from Harry Potter) that is much more self-assured and literal, who also adds to the humor… and could be seen as Bob, the skull.

But all of these points and other fantasy tropes could also point towards other authors like Kim Harrison with the use of demons, the agency that controls magic that really doesn’t like Grimsby or The Huntsman, and how the human world reacts to the supernatural world.

So looking past all of that, because everyone is going to be doing comparisons, Dead Man’s Hand is an excellent start to a new fantasy series. There is tons of action with some very amusing scenes. The characters are well developed for a first in a series, but the world building does need some more building. The bones are there and seem to be strong, but we need some more layers. As for who the bad guys are, that really wasn’t much of a shocker, but with only so many characters and how it seems to now be set up for future books, there wasn’t too much room to cast many doubts.

I’m looking forward to getting to know the characters more, especially the more side ones in this book and to seeing how in depth Butcher can make his new world, ( )
  KimHeniadis | Sep 27, 2022 |
This originally appeared at The Irresponsible Reader.
This is a Fantasy world where the Muggles (here, they're called "Usuals") know about Magic and the Supernatural populace (called "the Unorthodox"). They're largely not that comfortable with them, it doesn't seem—and maybe look down upon them. We don't get a lot of Usual/Unorthodox interaction, so it's difficult to get a good read.

The Unorthodox are policed by a division of the Department of Unorthodox Affairs called Auditors. They're witches with the power to enforce the laws governing the Unorthodox. And there are rules governing how the Unorthodox interact with Usuals. We don't get to see a lot of them here—but you know they exist.

It occurs to me now that we really don't get that much insight or information about all the situation the protagonists find themselves in (more below). Dead Man's Hand cares about the story and will let the rest take care of itself. It took me until now (and this is the last section of the post I'm writing) to realize just how little we know because I didn't care. My mindset apparently was the same as the novel's: just tell me the story. I got the impression that there were rules and bureaucracy and some sort of history, but my focus was on this case.

That's kind of cool, really—until it comes time to think about and write about the book.

One of our two protagonists is Grimshaw Griswald Grimsby. Grimsby grew up wanting to be an Auditor and tried to work on the requisite skills as much as he could to prepare himself. He's not the most powerful witch, but he can do a lot with what he has (roughly the equivalent of "street smarts" vs. "book smarts"). He's flunked out of the Auditor Training Program at the very end and has to go find a job in the Usual world.

He ends up as a performer/custodian at a Chuck E. Cheese-style restaurant, where the animated figures are powered by his magic. It's humiliating, embarrassing, and eats at his soul. Grimsby went through some big trauma in his childhood; was on the verge of his dreams coming true before that ended; and now he's scraping by demeaning himself and his abilities. It's hard to find a character with supernatural abilities downtrodden or pitiful, but...Grimsby is. To put it concisely, he's a schlub and he's fully aware of that.

The other protagonist is a Usual who worked with the Auditors, Leslie Mayflower, better known as The Huntsman. He's responsible for enough death and destruction amongst the Unorthodox that many don't believe he actually exists—he's an Urban Legend to keep people in line. In reality, he's a guy who's seen too much, done too much, and when personal tragedy hits, he's done. He retires to drink himself into oblivion to avoid the memories and his own tragedy.

The Auditor who flunked Grimsby is considered one of the most powerful and dangerous witches in the world. Mansgraf is respected and feared—mostly feared. And when the novel opens—she's been killed in a fairly brutal fashion (the only way she's going to be able to be taken out). Mayflower spent his career (at least the bulk of it) as her partner—and he's brought in to look at the scene to see if he can pick up any clues. He comes up with one—and doesn't share it with the Department—and it points right to Grimsby as his prime suspect.

The Huntsman is back in the saddle for one last ride—to get vengeance, and his target is a man currently wearing a pink tutu with taco wings and an avocado wand. The Taco Fairy at Mighty Magic Donald's Food Kingdom.

It's almost patently obvious to Mayflower that Grimsby can't have killed Mansgraf, but that's where the evidence points. The Auditors won't be far behind, and they'll be less inclined to listen to Grimsby. So Mayflower has to stay one step ahead of them while protecting the witch and using him to help the investigation. The result is a buddy cop kind of story—without that much comedy or much in the way of buddy-ness. The duo drag themselves and fight their way through a variety of hazardous situations facing a variety of supernatural obstacles (some are solid takes on well-established ideas—some are new and surprising twists to them).

Mayflower is your typical brooding, laconic, action hero. He's grizzled, he's serious, and he really only cares about wrapping this up so he can get back to destroying his liver. But he's fair, he's got a strong moral core, and on some level, he feels sorry for Grimsby and wants to help him out. We know just enough of his backstory to understand what kind of man he is and the scars he carries.

We get more information about Grimsby and the hardships he's endured. His cowardice, his lack of confidence, and his lack of career prospects make him a relatable kind of character, and you want to root for this underdog. Although you (and Grimsby) know that he's going to need a lot of help from Mayflower to survive, much less succeed here. His problems are both played for laughs and treated with respect—frequently in the same paragraph. He has a genuine reason for being scared by things, but it can result in some laughs/grins. I keep thinking about Arthur from The Tick.

There's a stoic, stay standing while the waves crash against you, feel to Mayflower's outlook and the way he treats Grimsby. Yes, life is hard, but keep moving because that's what you have to do. Whatever problems there are with that worldview, the immediate circumstances the duo finds themselves in, it works. if they survive it, maybe more nuanced approaches and help can be found. But that's a problem for another day.

I really don't want to spend a lot of time comparing this Butcher to his father, but 1. everyone I talk to about this asks about it and 2. the publisher's description mentions him, basically inviting the comparisons. I'd prefer to consider him on his own—but here we are.

Honestly, I don't see a lot of similarities—beyond seeing the influence that Jim Butcher has on many UF series (see Anton Strout, Kevin Hearne, Mike Carey, Benedict Jacka, etc., etc.). Sure, there are similar attitudes portrayed, similar character types and voices, and even a couple of situations that feel like I could easily name some parallels to in The Dresden Files. But again, every time I could point to something and say, "That's his Dad," I could point it and say, "That's Peter Hartog" or "That's Jacqueline Carey." So maybe it's just James J. Butcher.

His writing style is different, the characters aren't just retreads of Harry or his friends, and the particulars of the plot don't seem to fit something for Harry.

If you're looking for someone who writes things in the same general vein as Jim Butcher, you can look to James J. Butcher. But if you're looking for Butcher 2.0? There are other options that would be better.

This is a solid introduction to a series. I want more of the worldbuilding, I want to see how Usuals/The Unorthodox interact when they're not at a lousy restaurant, etc. But I'm more than content to wait for it—like I said, I didn't really realize what we didn't get until now.

I would say I'm not a huge fan of the epilogue—the events of it should prove interesting, even if I might want for a different storyline to be pursued—but I don't like the way it functioned in the novel. Personally, I'd have been happier if it had been a prologue to book 2 or 3, and let the book end without it. I don't think it was needed, and I think the book ending with Chapter 47 would give a stronger impression.

Aside from that, I really have no complaints about the book—I was solidly entertained and invested from Chapter 1 onward. I don't know that I can say that I was blown away by anything—but there are some things I'm not talking about here because of space/don't want to give something away, that I will be talking about for months (and have already started doing so). I'm not going to be announcing to the world that the next Jim Butcher/Seanan McGuire is here. But I will say that this new writer is really good and absolutely worth reading. You're going to be entertained. Seriously, pick this up just for the kid's birthday party scenes, and then stick around for the excitement.

In the last twelve months, we had to say goodbye to Jane Yellowrock this year and Alex Verus the year before, I'm glad we got to say hello to The Unorthodox Chronicles now. I think this series could be as long and as satisfying as those if it's given the chance to grow naturally and doesn't get overshadowed by Butcher's DNA. ( )
  hcnewton | Sep 22, 2022 |
The Unorthodox Chronicles is set in a world of magic. Dead Man's Hand is James Butcher's first novel in the series. I found it to be the perfect antidote to our messed up, dangerous world because the world of Dead Man's Hand is messed up and dangerous, but from the outset, reading about the main character wearing a tutu, the reader knows the time spent in this realm will be fun. Butcher renders Grimsby, an Unorthodox (magic-wielding) being who has failed to become an Auditor (the police of the Unorthodox) awkward and unheroic; someone who sweats a lot. But of course, his strong inner qualities shine through when he decides to investigate the death of his former mentor.

That puts Grimsby in the way of powerful Auditors and monsters from the Elsewhere. Like a true urban fantasy hero, he does not succumb; he does not give up. But he is having a hard time surviving. Meeting someone who does not want to become a comrade-in-arms,The Huntsman, nevertheless results in Grimsby being aided by the legendary figure, along with a visitor from Elsewhere. Some typical banter between Grimsby and the Huntsman Mayflower ensues. Their quest to keep Grimsby alive and determine the killer of Grimsby's mentor moves through some grim scenarios, somewhat repetitiously, but each face-off moves them closer to the desired discovery; the suspense centers on whether they will stay alive long enough.

I received an advance copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley. This is an honest review. ( )
  khenkins | Jul 7, 2022 |
Witches and magic inhabit Boston in this story that tells of Grimsby, a mediocre witch who has always wanted to be an auditor. He is accused of murdering his former instructor, because everyone knows that he blames her for his lowly status. In his effort to escape being captured by his accusers, he encounters one impossible challenge after another, and each time he survives in spite of incredible odds. I could easily imagine this as an action movie with lots of special effects, but I found the narrative repetitive and overlong. ( )
  sleahey | May 31, 2022 |
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On the streets of Boston, the world is divided into the ordinary Usuals, and the paranormal Unorthodox. And in the Department of Unorthodox Affairs, the Auditors are the magical elite witches with spells at their command and all the power and prestige that comes with it. Grimshaw Griswald Grimsby is... not one of those witches. After flunking out of the Auditor training program, Grimsby tried to resign himself to life as a mediocre witch. But he can t help hoping he'll somehow, someway, get another chance to prove his skill, unfortunately when that chance comes his way, it comes with high risks.

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